Bonner County v. Zinke

Déjà vu, caribou: Round three in the caribou delisting saga

Cases > Separation of Powers > Bonner County v. Zinke
Case Status: Active: Litigation is ongoing

For decades, citizens of Bonner County, Idaho and members of the Idaho State Snowmobile Association have endured profound negative effects from the federal government’s listing of the Southern Selkirk Mountain caribou population. The local economy depends heavily on winter recreational activities that are significantly limited by trail closures related to the caribou. Over three years ago, the government acknowledged the caribou was not endangered and should never have been listed in the first place. And then it did…. nothing. The Endangered Species Act requires action within certain deadlines to delist species, and the government ignored all of them. PLF represents the residents of Bonner County and the snowmobilers in a lawsuit to force the government to follow the law and delist the caribou.

The federal Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Southern Selkirk Mountain caribou as an endangered species in 1984 and subsequently designated more than 37,500 acres as critical habitat. Bonner County and the Snowmobile Association petitioned the Service to delist the caribou on the grounds that they were never endangered in the first place. After several petitions and lawsuits, the Service finally acknowledged in June, 2014, that the Selkirk caribou was never eligible to be listed as endangered because it was simply one group of a populous species that covers a greater area.

Despite this acknowledgement of the illegality of the original listing, the Service has not moved an inch toward actually delisting the caribou and lifting the accompanying land use restrictions. This failure to act itself violates the Endangered Species Act and agency action that is unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed also violates the federal Administrative Procedures Act.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has a duty to ensure that species listed under the ESA properly belong there. This duty protects those species that need special care to increase their numbers, and it also ensures that species that do not need federal protection are not improperly hampering economic activity. The continued listing of species that is acknowledged to be perfectly healthy imposes unnecessary burdens on affected citizens and communities. PLF represents Bonner County and the Snowmobile Association to force the government to live up to its legal commitments.

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What’s at stake?

  • An illegal caribou listing forced scores of small local business to close, leading to substantial job and revenue losses. Delisting will put the area back on the road to economic success.
  • Administrative agencies must comply with limitations in their authorizing legislation; otherwise, they are acting lawlessly, imposing onerous restrictions on Americans by fiat.

Case Timeline

Bonner County v. Zinke Documents 7-2-17

June 02, 2017 Download

Bonner County v. Zinke Documents 5-9-12

May 09, 2012 Download

Case Attorneys

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